Beloved Métis elder Elsie Yanik dies at 99 years old

November 30, 2016

On the last night of her life, beloved Métis elder Elsie Yanik lived with the same energy and joy she was renowned for.

The 99-year-old ate apple pie and tapped her feet to the music while having dinner at Nanaimo’s MGM restaurant with her new friend Kathleen Kornelson, the caretaker and owner of Harbour View Manor seniors’ residence in Ladysmith, B.C. where Elsie was staying. She enjoyed the dinner so much they stayed three hours.

But shortly after returning to the residence, Elsie did not feel well and was taken to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital by ambulance. She died without pain in her hospital bed at 2:40 a.m. MT., Nov. 27.

“It’s not a sad occasion, I’m so happy she passed so peacefully,” Elsie’s daughter Marylan Yanik, 76, said.

Elsie had plans to go to church on Sunday, then get her hair done. She was planning to travel to Fort McMurray to attend the Métis elders’ Christmas party on Dec. 15


Elsie Yank accepting Lifetime Achievement Award from Roberta Jamieson, 2015 Indspire Awards.
Elsie Yank accepting  Lifetime Achievement Award from Roberta Jamieson, 2015 Indspire Awards. 


“She was enjoying life, and was looking forward to living more of it,” Marylan said.

Tributes have poured in for Elsie, a respected spiritual presence in Wood Buffalo and the Northwest Territories who has been celebrated for her commitment to education and community.

Elsie was an icon not just to Métis community but to everyone, said McMurray Métis president Gail Gallupe.

“She just gave with her heart and soul,” she said. “She loved people, and I’m going to miss her a lot.”

Yanik returned to Fort McMurray in July following the fire, but worried about her many friends who were suffering following the disaster. During the summer she was frequently taken to the hospital for high blood pressure, before she finally left in late September to stay with her family in B.C.

Elsie is survived by her daughters Pat, Marylan, Lillian, Mary-Margaret, her son Lorne and foster son Tony Evans. Her daughter Dolores died five years ago. Elsie also has 13 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.

Over the years Yanik has volunteered for the Catholic Women’s League, served for a decade with the Young Offenders Board and worked with the Nunee Health Authority in Fort Chipewyan.

Yanik often led prayer services at the Fort McMurray Catholic schools, and at Métis community events.

In April this year the Fort McMurray Catholic School District (FMCSD) announced the new school being built in Parsons Creek will be called the Elsie Yanik Catholic School. The school was originally planned to open in September 2017, and no new date has been announced.

After her mother died when Elsie was eight, Elsie was sent to the Fort Resolution Indian Residential School, in Fort Resolution, N.W.T. The school was run by the Grey Nuns, a group of religious communities of women who often provided health care and social services where they were established.

“It was very very hard at times being taken from home into a place where there was so much discipline,” Yanik told the Today in an April interview. “But you know, discipline is good. Discipline never hurt me.”

She later worked at a hospital with the nuns in Fort Smith, wanting to be a nurse but lacking the education.

“Education is so important,” Elsie said. “Because we never had that opportunity in the early twenties when I went to school.”

However, she did graduate from the “university of life,” she said.

Yanik eventually went to live in Fort Chipewyan with her husband Lawrence Yanik, where she raised her family and lived for more than 40 years.

She was ordained as a Roman Catholic lay minister and served the community for more than a decade at a time when Fort Chipewyan had no priest.

Elsie said she wished that everyone she has met or knows live life to the fullest.

“We’re all on a different bus heading on the highway of life,” Yanik said. “At the end of the road, there’s only one Creator waiting for us.”

“I guess I’ll leave this world believing in the things I believe now.”

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